Human consciousness is a bottomless well – full of mystery and unexpected desires. It always tries to escape the physical body and to become material. Human intelligence, hence, has always strived for the unknown and here, science plays the role of motivator and trigger of all human deeds. In this regard, the film Solaris directed by Tarkovsky represents hardships and challenges that people should overcome for the sake of the unknown and for the sake of the scientific progress. Apart from this, the film is a deeply psychological picture that reveals a person’s attempt to overcome difficulties of moral transformation while struggling with the alternative reality.
The depth and meaning of the film does not fully depend on human aspiration for knowledge and the truth. It is not only premised on the science-fiction genre. Indeed, the picture uncovers the way people overcome the obstacles on the way to the rise of new morality. Yet, as Tarkovsky mentions in his interview, “human beings should remain human beings, even if they find themselves in inhuman conditions” (Tarkovsky and Gianvito, 2006, p. 33). In such a way, the director tends to show the splendor and strength of human spirit and the way humans face bravely the hardships within their own destiny.
Another important dimension depicted in the film is a complicated relation between the main character, Kris Kelvin, and his dead wife, Hari, appearing mysteriously on the station. Like other members of the crew, Kelvin tries to find the explanation for his visions and hallucinations and to adapt to the new reality dictating by alien intelligence. In this respect, the film is a sophisticated mixture of fictional and scientific elements enabling the readers to grasp the essence of a human conscience.
For Kris Kelvin, the Solaris is the main source providing him a second chance to improve his past life and to realize his wife’s death. Through these images, Kelvin also experiences great psychological tensions by admitting that his wife is nothing more than Solaris’s reaction at his grief. This is why the novel is not only the encounter of the human intelligence and the alien reality in the form of the Solaris’s ocean, but it is the story of love in the open space.
The main hero of the movie, Kris Kelvin, a psychologist who arrives at the station exploring the planet Solaris to reveal the mysteries of strange occurrences happened. But his staying on the station near the ‘intelligent’ planet, the main hero experiences strange hallucinations like other members of the crew. Being frustrated by his wife’s death, Kelvin experiences considerable tortures when envisioning her in the station.
Introducing Psychological Portrait of Kris Kelvin
Kelvin’s Understanding of Life before His Journey to the Station
Kelvin’s life before the arrival at the station was marked by monotonous routine. In the picture, the hero spends his last days on the Earth reflecting on his wife’s death. He stays at his father’s house near the lake, the place where he spent his childhood. Henri Berton, the first pilot and the witness of those eerie events on the Solaris station, presents Kris as “a man with the soul of an accountant” who spends his life arranging and rethinking the past (Nochimson, 2010, p. 100).
This diagnosis is corroborated in his relations with his father where he remains cool and still toward him. In fact, Kelvin himself is ill at ease about his cool and reserved demeanor because he believes that this behavior is the reason of his wife’s death. The hero is like a powder keg that is about to blow up because of the overwhelming feelings. This is why the forthcoming journey becomes a real trial for his soul and mind.
Kelvin’s Impression on His Encounter with Extra-terrestrial
When the hero arrives on the Solaris station, he notices strange events taking place there. He finds his friend, the scientist Gebarian, dead as he committed suicide. Other two scientists, Dr. Snaut and Dr. Sartorius, are in different states of psychological breakdown. Kelvin soon experiences the invasion of alien reality, the reality that still co-exists with human consciousness. He finds other strange unknown figures on the station, which were created by the magnetic waves coming from the ocean of Solaris.
From the first scenes on the Solaris station, one can sense the thinning of boundaries between the inner reality created by human knowledge and the outer reality created by the alien intelligence. This is, perhaps, the most intricate question of the whole film: are there boundaries of human knowledge? However, what is perceived as a mystery in the film is, in fact, about the concealed possibility of human consciousness enabling people to experience this scientific progress. Here we see that the encounter with alien intelligence is, first of all, the encounter with the unknown of your human mind.
Sartorius, Snaut, Gebarian and Their Psychological Experience on the Station as Compared with Kelvin
In the film, particularly in the scene on the Solaris station, it is possible to observe the different psychological deviations experienced by Snaut and Sartorius who also encounter hallucinations and visions. However, unlike Kelvin who is still attached to the Earth reality, Snaut and Sartorius do not have such distinctions anymore. They do not recognize Kelvin as a real person but as the vision together with other ‘guests’ at the station.
This alternative reality have swallowed them and deprived them of all recollections about the Earth. Now they live in the world of their own dreams and desires. The problems here is that Kelvin tries to understand what is happening with his colleagues; at the same time, everything he chances to see is inacceptable for his personal perception. The scientists believe that it is something real, but still they reject what they see thus believing that they are insane.
Unlike Snaut and Sartorius, Gebarian was the only person who accepted those visions as something connected with guilty conscious but not madness. Kelvin’s further staying on the station unveils the essence of Gebarian’s words thus proving that the visions are material within this alternative reality but far detached from those reality created on the Earth by humanity. Therefore, Gebarian and Kelvin’s images are alike since both heroes encounter with people who died in the past. As for Snaut and Sartorius, they envisioned humans that they had never seen before.
The short scenes revealing the experiences of the crew on the station and the emotional breakdowns they had to overcome lead us to the main psychological interaction between Kelvin, his wife Hari, and his conscience. For the protagonist, the scientific progress is the secondary goal since his being in the open space is chance to escape from the vexations of mind.
Different feelings and attitudes towards their visions are also perceived by Hari’s replica who manages to see Snaut and Sartorius’s relation to the envisions. In particular, Hari’s states,
I think that Kris is more consistent than both of you. In inhuman conditions he has behaved humanely. And you act as if none of this concerns you, and consider your guests – it seems that’s what you call us – something external, a hindrance. But it’s a part of you. It is your conscience (Solaris, 1972).
Hari has managed to fully render different perceptions of reality experienced by Kris and other two scientists, despite her being not a human.
Kelvin’s Psychological Decline
Encounter with the Unknown as Opposed to the Encounter with the Unconscious
The first time Kelvin sees his wife is rather strange since this advent he perceives as something normal, as something he have been waiting for a long time. In fact, while visioning and touching his wife, Kelvin is intending to understand and find some scientific explanation for it. At the same time, he is at a loss and the way-out is to accept this as a matter of fact. While viewing this scene, one can notice that the unknown and mysterious is accepted as something trifle and deserving attention. Therefore, the film contains the undertones of surrealism, which is a bit contradicting but acceptable.
Before analyzing the relations between Kelvin and his imaginary wife, it is still necessary to refer to the notion of real, which is distorted in this film, or even endowed with the new meaning for the heroes. For Kris, the appearance of his wife is something more than recollection and hallucinations.
Kelvin’s Recollections: a New Notion of Reality
In the film, Tarkovsky uses the relation between Kris and Hari to explain the notion of reality and of how real any people are. Being far away from the Earth, is it possible to cognate what the reality is? In the film, Hari espies that she is not Kris’s dead wife but the materialization of thoughts and his guilty conscience. However, she cares for Kris who also cares for her back thus realizing that she is something else than her former wife.
Here, the director of Solaris allows the audience to ponder on this question. But leading scenes and play of the actors render the idea of reality as if it is our own making which is “measured scientifically through the subjective perception of humanity. It seems to suggest that it cannot, and bids us be happy with the small comfort that we can give each other away from the crippling effects of the science and technology” (Lucas cited in Zafris, 2010, p. 8). Consequently, if to rely on the idea that reality is our own creation, then, Hari and other ‘guests’ of the Solaris station being the outcome of the scientists’ personal cognition of reality are also real.
The above matter is explicitly unveiled trough the conversation of Kris and Sartorius about life and questions of reality. When both characters cannot reach a consensus concerning the origin of the hallucinations and the mystery, Sartorius compares Kelvin’s wife with “an excellent sample of investigation” (Solaris, 1972). However, Kris refuses to accept the truth and dips himself into the past. His wife’s copy serves like a second chance for the hero to change the history. The point is that Kris’s imaginary wife does not remember her being on the Earth thus imposing a sort of ambiguity on what is perceived as reality.
Reflecting of the essence of life, the director makes use of double images thus recognizing the scientific progress as a human necessity to for “spreading the Earth to the boundaries of the unknown”, spreading human conscious. Humans are in the need of mirror (Solaris, 1972). As Snout states, “We are fighting for contact, but we will never find him. We are in the foolish human predicament of striving for a goal that he fears that he has no need for. Man needs man” (Solaris, 1972). The concept of mirror is also embedded in the scene where the audience can observe the double image of Kris Kelvin and Hari looking at the mirror. This stage proves that reality is somehow connected with his conscious and his problems in the past.
Kelvin and Hari in the Open Space: a New Concept of Love
Viewing the film at another level, the core part of the picture is focused on a man’s comprehension and reevaluation of what love is. Hence, the movie presents love as having both cosmic and metaphysical cosmogony; and, therefore, Tarkovsky formulates his development in a space allegory of love. The ocean of Solaris is a kind of vacuum of the absolute experience, the source from which all experience comes. Kris’s affection for Hari derives from and returns back to this vacuum. In the final scene of the film, the ocean is presented as the source and the essence of being that confirms of the presence of metaphysical reality.
The space allegory is closely connected with deeper understanding of love. In particular, Kris’s love brings him back to humanity; ongoing hardships that both should overcome unveil terrifying possibility of love spreading beyond any individual. Viewing the film and watching the main characters, the audience can realize that Hari cannot be considered as the victim of the ocean, but the part of it; it is a sophisticated outcome of Kris deliberations and the ocean that reflects all human thoughts.
Here the ocean is like a mirror that does not distort the human knowledge and mind but contributes to its improvement (Hyman, 1976, p. 56). This idea is explicitly presented through Kris’s monologue on love and essence of human life. He suggests, “People always love what they may lose. Love is a feeling which is hard to explain but which one can experience….May be we are here… to perceive a man as an object of love” (Solaris, 1972).
As it can be seen, the love expressed by ocean is nothing more than a reflection of humanness. All Kelvin’s adventures on the Solaris station are the images from his head. So, Hari is also the product of his desires but a real human. In the library, Hari responds to Sartorius’s offences: “You are right… I am not a human…but I love him… I am becoming a human” (Solaris, 1972). In whole, the director implies that love is a sign of humanity. It is the very definition of a human. He interprets human love as the primary notion and the essence of the universe (Deltcheva and Vlasov, 1997, p. 533).
Tragic Price for the Scientific Progress: a Blessing or Curse?
Hari and other ‘guests’ of the station are regarded as regeneration and materialization of human consciousness. However, those materializations symbolize immortality of the supreme mind, where human conscious is external and can interact with other unknown bodies (Kenez, 1972-1973, p. 59).
When envisioning the copy of his dead wife, Kris is at a loss, he does not know whether he should accept it or reject. He is beating his brain out to find at least one rational explanation for staying on the station and defining the reason of those apparitions. At first, the psychologist is frightened at the presence of his wife because he believes that this is the display of his remorse for the lost love. But a bit later, Kris comes to the conclusion that another Hari, the product of his mind and the ocean, is a second chance, a blessing that should be used. Through the interaction with Solaris, the main heroes become aware of his veritable desires, longings, and hopes.
A special attention should be taken to Hari as the materialization of Kris’s thoughts. In the film, it is hard to predict how far, Hari’s copy perceives herself as the materialization but not as a human. Nevertheless, it is possible to see Hari understanding of her presence on the Solaris; she also realizes that she is the product of Kris’s feelings of remorse for his wife’s death. She conceives that she will never become the Hari that died; this is a new Hari. Although, she is just materialization, Hari is capable of expressing feelings; she sacrifices herself for the sake of his lover and commits suicide. She becomes even a more human than other visitors of the station.
In the end of the film, Kris accepts the presence of Hari, not the previous Hari, but another Hari he really loves. This love he perceives as the gift of the Universe that provides him a second chance to reevaluate his life and to change his past values. In one of the last scene, he addresses Tolstoy’s reflection on humanity and essence of human love.
The Problem of Overcoming and Moral Transformation
Apart of representation of love and complicated human relations, Solaris also embarks on describing the world of desires and the world of fantasy where the main hero can create and materialize all their unfulfilled plans (McGowan, 2007, p. 183). In particular, Gebarian wished to return his little daughter, and Kris was keen on returning her ex-wife that he loved. He wants to show that it is he who should be blamed for the difficulties and quarrels they had to overcome when living on Earth. In the final shot of the film, Kris still feels that he has not liberated himself from the guilt for the last deed in his terrestrial life. Therefore, he decides to stay on the planet to incarnate his farther and the childhood house.
The above shows that Solaris represents the world of desire existed within the fictional world created by the main heroes. The ocean, an extra-terrestrial intelligence helps to render the experience of fantasy but not desire. The creatures appeared on the Solaris station are not the desired ones but the ones the heroes think of.
Throughout the film, it is possible to pursue considerable transformation of the main hero from a reserved and rational person into a sympathizing and emotional individuality. The viewers can also notice the shift in Kris relation toward the apparitions of his dead wife. Hence, at the beginning, the psychologist tries to resist the visions and hallucinations since they contradict the reality he has come from. But gradual recognition of the alternative reality helps to accept his personal imagination as the veritable reality.
Unlike Kris, other characters of the movie are unable to acknowledge the power of their conscience. As a result, Gebarian committed suicide since he did not manage to accept the unknown. Kelvin explains his death as fear and reluctance to accept the new reality and reject the one he got accustomed to.
The Cognition of the Unconscious as an Attempt to Communicate with Extra-terrestrial: Comparative Analysis
It should be stressed that Solaris is the planet that tries to explore the human nature and origin of memory, intelligence, emotions, and the self. The presence of extra-terrestrial condemns the material world; the priority is given to the power of thought and imagination. It also supports the notion of personal integrity and independence (Dillon, 2006, p. 106). Despite the Solaris’s ability to reflect the memories, the planet distorts the scientists’ mental equilibrium and makes them experience the tormented pasts; it also empowers Kris, who turns out the strongest of the scientists, to cleanse himself of the prejudices about the alien reality, which, in fact, is the part of his conscience (Dempsey, 1981, p. 13).
Pertaining to the perception of extra-terrestrials, the scientists, except, Gebarian, try to explain it rationally. They perceive the alien intelligence as something external that does not relate to their personal experiences and psychological deviations. In this way, the ocean is represented as a strong semantic center; it is the matrix that engrosses human mind and emotions thus representing the individual and collective intelligence (Geier and Welliver, 1992, p. 193).
Drawing a conclusion, the film Solaris by Tarkovsky is fictional film dwelling on the various philosophical questions like the essence of life, human relations, and psychological experience. The main characters of the novel are involved into intrinsic relations with the extra-terrestrial, a bottomless ocean invading and spreading the boundaries of human knowledge. However, a space allegory does not prevent the heroes from experiencing true feelings and emotions. In particular, the film embarks on difficult relation between Kris and his dead wife Hari reincarnated on the Solaris station.
Kris’s envisions are a real trial for him and for psychological state. Throughout the film, it is possible to pursue the moral transformation of the main hero who accepts the Solaris gift as the second chance to alter his life.
Solaris also represents the problem overcoming of the unknown. It expresses the moral upheaval of human beings in correlation with new discoveries. The heroes’ hard emotional breakdown and psychological decline is compensated by the cognition of the concealed knowledge and the appearance of new possibilities of the human conscience. Finally, the film is the manifestation of the splendor and strength of human spirit and ability to surpass the hardships of the destiny. His deep philosophical sense leaves much in store for further deliberations.
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Geier, M., and Welliver, E. 1992. Stanislav Lem’s Fantastic Ocean: Toward a Semantic Interpretation of “Solaris”. Science Fiction Studies. 19(2), pp. 192-218.
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